Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What next?

I've taken a few days off, but I've had the urge to get back to it. I'm really tempted to print it out and start doing some line editing--to see if I can start making it zip a little better at the sentence level--but it's probably too soon. It still needs some basic revision. I'm getting close, though, and I might indulge myself with that soon.

I looked through the Word doc today. I use the comments feature in Word to make notes along the way of things that I need to come back to and deal with, and I have about 20 of those. Some of them are fairly simple things that don't require a lot of intellectual energy--e.g. checking the details on a bus stop that I suspect has been described in two different ways on two different mentions of it.

A handful of those notes, though, require more serious attention--scenes that still feel like they aren't going anywhere; characters acting in some hidden corner of the story as if they don't have the same motivation that has been developed for them in the rest of the book. These are issues that have nagged along the way and I need to bear down and focus at last.

So, my plan is to start this Thursday (after a work deadline), fresh in the morning, and put in regular a.m. working sessions, tackling them one at time as best as I can. I hope to spend less than two weeks on this phase. (Another work deadline looms after April 15 and I'll need to give my first-thing-in-the-morning energy to that.)

Depending on what I decide about line editing at this stage, that could bring me to an end of draft 6.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Developing characters, before or during

I think of what kind of person they’re going to be, but it isn’t until I start writing that I fully imagine what they’re like and begin to understand who they are. A lot is giving the a voice in dialogue as I begin to imagine the way people talk and quirks of their language and then quirks of the way they’re thinking, they begin to come to me, though I might have some notes before I started to write.

--Sue Miller

This description perfectly parallels my experience. I did some character sketches for my main characters before I started drafting in earnest, but for awhile they were little more than glass-eyed dolls that I moved around to act out the crude story I had at that point. And, like Miller describes, they started to make themselves real to me through their dialogue. I was writing dialogue to serve the plot, but over time the characters voices start to get more and more distinct.

At a certain point, for example, I noticed that one character was saying almost nothing active—just responding to what was around him in the most limited way he could get away with. And in that way I learned how wary and guarded he was. Which was something that was probably latent in the original character sketch but not so conscious for me until later.

That quirk of language told me about the quirks of thinking, which told me a lot more about who they really were, which then gave the story more depth so it became less and less crude as I went along.

I think I’ve referred in other posts to a previous attempt to write a novel, and back then I took the opposite approach—I filled notebooks full of character development exercises. I suppose they might have been useful for getting unstuck but as a planning tool, they just made me feel busy while I delayed the important work of adding sentences every day to my draft.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Minus 125 pages and Done!

The last few chapters went a lot faster than the muddled middle. I've input all the changes. Here's the final tally:

-From a starting point of 539 pages, I cut 125 pages total and now stand at 414 pages in typescript. That's a cut of approximately 23 percent.

-In printed form, that would be (using the conversion I figured out a few weeks ago) reducing from a starting point of approximately 434 pages to 340 pages currently.

-Word count stands at 123,600 words. Wow. That's shorter than my first draft. I must have less narration and a lot more dialogue in there hogging up white space with fewer words. That's down from 163,700 words in the previous draft.

All of that is on target for the goal I had for this draft, and I'm a lot more comfortable with the shape the book is in, but part of my has the hunch that it ought to be about 40 typescript pages shorter. In terms of word count, I'm 25% over my original concept for the book. Not sure right now how to decide if there's really a problem and if so how to approach it.

Next up . . . I'm going to stew on it. I'm not going to call an official end to draft six for a little while. There is at least a few days of clean up I need to do and maybe more. I'm trying to get it in shape for my next reader and, as before, I want to make handle everything I can think of before I impose on anyone else. I'm going to let it sit for a few days while I catch up on real life and then start the clean up work sometime next week.

Minus 121 pages--almost done

I cranked through two chapters this morning and have only two left, which I'll try to finish this afternoon.

The doc stands at 418 pp. now, which is minus 121 from the starting point. Somewhere my counts got screwy because I'm already well over my estimate for the total.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Minus 106 pages through Ch. 12

Whew. Getting exhausted. Spring break came at exactly the right time--when I'm in the mood for putting in long days exclusively on the book. It's just brute force at this point, putting in the edits. Very little intellectual attention involved so I can put in a lot more hours.

Like I expected, the last chapters of Part 1 (8-10) were done, but I had forgotten about some pending changes in the start of Part 2 (11-12). I ended up tackling that this afternoon so I would still be set up the way I wanted for tomorrow and it was a little time consuming.

Like I say, the page counts are all screwy now that I'm in to this part of the book. Counting all 5 of these chapters (8-12) I'm now up to minus 106 pages off the 539 pages I originally started with. It stands at 433 pages now. I'm past the areas with the biggest cuts, so it's just dribs and drabs from here on. I'll end up in the neighborhood of 120 pages cut when I finish this, which will be I don't know when. I need to put in some time planning my classes for the second half of the semester.

Minus 70 pages--done with Part 1

Put in a long morning inputting the changes on two chapters -- 6 and 7. Easier work than yesterday.

That cut out 13 and 11 pages respectively, one more than my estimate, so I'm up to 70 pp. total cut from Chapters 1-7, about three more than my estimate.

After this it will be harder to track because I'm getting into the areas where I have already input the changes and where I chopped up chapters and moved them around. I'm pretty sure I don't need to do anything else with the rest of Part 1--formerly Ch. 8 and now Chs. 8-10. And I don't think I need to do anything with the opening two chapters of Part 2. This afternoon I'll confirm all that and set myself up to start on Chapter 13 tomorrow. If so, that will add about 30 pages to the tally of pages cut I think.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Minus 46 pp. through Ch. 5

I put in an extra a.m. session today (spring break dividend). Made the changes on Ch. 5, which reduced it by 9 pages, versus 7 estimated. So I'm up to minus 46 and slightly ahead of my overall estimate.

It hurts though. I block out the text and can't believe what I'm seeing--I'm really getting rid of that episode, that character? Click, and it's gone. (Well, it's saved for posterity in other files of course.) One of the episodes I cut this afternoon was almost the very first thing I wrote two years ago when I was first noodling with this project. It still goes with where the story has evolved, but it's not essential. It slows down the pace, and when you stand at 463 pages, pace takes priority over color.

It was a lot of work today. If tomorrow is no harder and I finish two chapters--6 and 7--I'll really be done with Part 1 since Ch. 8 was one of those odd chapters I took care of before. I can skip forward several chapters after that.

Minus 37 pp.--made up ground

Made the changes on Ch. 4 this a.m. A projected cut of 11 pp. turned out to be 14 pp., so I made up the lost ground from yesterday. 37 pp. total cut in the first four chapters--right on track.

It was a long session of attentive work and ended up taking more energy and time than the chapters yesterday. I think my editing notes got less precise along here during the read-through. I had to do a lot of problem solving this morning.

I'm going to try another chapter this afternoon. I have to be careful not to get so carried away that I neglect to plan my classes for next week. One of these days I'll have to take some time away from the novel.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Minus 23 pages

I put in a third session this late afternoon, inputting the changes on Ch. 3. I'm in the mood to keep cranking through.

I'm minus 23 pp. now, which is 4 short of my estimate. I wanted to be at least minus 27 by this point. Ch. 3 is likely to have the most cuts of all. 19 estimated. 16 actual.

My estimates are off because I tended to undercut all the little notes that add new text in.

Minus seven pages

I input the changes on the first two chapters today and it was the equivalent of 2 working sessions, which I could afford because it's spring break. Perhaps I'll make a big push this week. I think the typical working day during this process is likely to be only 1 chapter per day.

My pencil estimates for these two chapters had me at minus 8 pages and my actual was minus 7. So I'm down to 502 pp.

However (really being obsessive, I know) I essentially gave away two new pages by creating two new chapter breaks, splitting each of Chs. 1 and 2 in half. I potentially would have been down to 500. Those new chapter breaks are not going to be definite. More on that another time when I think it through. For now I'll keep referring to Chs. 1 and 2 in the same way.

On to Chapter 3 tomorrow.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Establishing chapter numbering and page counts and word coutns

Sunday morning. I'm on the computer saving a new copy of the file and getting everything in order for my fresh start tomorrow.

To clarify the chapter situation . . . after combining some and splitting up some during the read-through process, I now have 17 chapters instead of 16. Chs. 1-7 are the same as in previous drafts. From Ch. 8 on the references aren't comparable because of the combining and splitting and moving around.

That numbering includes the last short section which for the sake of simplicity I've been calling a chapter but in fact functions more like an epilogue. I suspect I'll end up labeling it an epilogue later rather than Ch. 17.

Section organization . . . Part 1 ends with Ch. 10 (instead of 8). Part 2 ends with Ch. 16 (instead of 15). Part 3/Epilogue is Ch. 17.

Page counts . . . my starting point is a 539-page typescript. That's the length of it last December when I finished the last draft and handed it off to my reader. As I marked up the paper copy, I've kept a tally of estimated cuts--113 pages--and we'll see if that holds up as I input the changes.

In fact, I already have it down to 509 pages. Remember that a couple times during the "paper" process I did in fact go to the computer to manage the cutting and pasting better, so the changes have already been input on a handful of chapters. (8-10, 11-12, 14). So while my official starting point is 539 pages, the copy I just now pulled into shape and will start with tomorrow is 509 pages.

Word counts . . . I've stopped really paying attention to word counts like I did in the initial drafts, in favor of page counts now that it's on the computer. But for the record, my starting point is 163,700 words. (That's down from a high of about 175,000 back in about draft 4.) I suppose I'll cut about 20% in this draft. Estimate about 130,000.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tentatively finished with the mark up

Against my better judgment, I'm declaring myself done with this read through and mark up process. There's a lingering problem in the last chapter on a par with other problems that I have fixed along the way and that I ought to fix now. But it's the end of the week, and I want this not to be hanging over into the next week. Maybe I'll find time to think it through and tidy it up over the weekend, and I can always do it in a spare afternoon while I'm involved in the next round.

Next up, inputting all the changes I marked on the printed typescript into the Word doc. I'm wild guessing when I budget three weeks for that. Let's say by April 20.

The simple changes are going to be tedious and just require brute force to crank it out. (I'll probably burn my eyes out doing it. I went to the eye doctor the other day to talk to him about my eye strain. He reluctantly gave me a prescription for computer reading glasses but says the only real solution is spend less time on the computer.)

And the less simple changes--places where I cheated along the way and just made notes like "foreground x element in this section"--are going to require concentration, and it's impossible to estimate what kind of road blocks I'll hit then.

My initial goal during the process just finished was to cut 100 pp. At one point my trend was running higher so I though I might cut 135 pp. or more. There was less to cut as I got closer to the end, though. I ended up with an estimated 112 pp. cut, which would leave me with a typescript of about 427 pp. That's just eyeballing from the pencil marks on the printout though. I won't really know until all the changes are in the computer.

All right. Fresh start Monday. Pile the mess next to my computer and start again at page 1. I think of this as stage B of the sixth draft.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Snip snip

Read through the next-to-next-to-last chapter this a.m. and mostly made minor edits until I came to the final scene--8 pp. of beautiful writing leading up to an encounter between two characters that had been the whole original point of the chapter when I first drafted it almost 18 months ago. And it occurred to me that the scene is no longer necessary. I could easily cut it and in fact probably should. It slows down the emotional momentum, and the next-to-next-to-last chapter is a pretty stupid place to do that.

But I don't WANT to cut it!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Moving on

I'm going to declare myself done with the mess I'm creating in Chs. 8-10 and 14. I've reshuffled the material like I planned and written some kind of connective tissue for all of it. I have no idea if it's even intelligible at this point, so I think whatever else it needs is going to have to wait until the next time I come around to it.

That's not the next "draft" necessarily. I've always thought of this draft as the "read through" to mark up the typescript, which I'm nearing the end of now, and then inputting those changes on the electronic version. I assume when I'm inputting the changes I'll see more opportunity for improvement. These chapters will be a kind of special case and so will the changes I made to the first 3 chapters of Part 2 a few weeks ago, so I moved to the computer to cut and paste in the electronic version temporarily, so for all of that material the changes have already been put in. I guess when I'm coming back through I'll just read those chapters in order to see how they sound.

OK, next up--the last three chapters of the "read through." Finally. I thought I was going to be done with this a couple weeks ago. I'll finish by the end of this week for sure, maybe sooner. It will be nice to get away from this computer and back to the writing table again for a little bit.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Return to work--chs. 8-10

Last week was just about a total loss. It's hard to return from a week like that usually, plus I've got a case of the blues. But experience tells me that the only thing to do for it is to turn to the first page and start reading until you see something to fix. I prefer to know what the agenda is and have a to do list and the confidence that I know how to go about it, but when I don't have all that, I have to find a way in.

So, I'm back to work on Chs. 8-10 and 14. These are the "new" chapters 8-10 and 14 after all the chopping in half and pasting in new places that I discussed earlier. The parts were organized and waiting for me until now to do that rest. What remains is basically writing the framing material around it.

I put in two brief sessions today, a.m. and p.m., getting through two of the four chapters in question, I guess. I don't feel like it's any good, but it's progress of some kind. Maybe tomorrow I can do the other two chapters.

Whenever I finish that, then it's on the rest of the "read through" of the entire book. I have 3 chapters to go. The numbering is all screwy now, but I guess I'm close enough to the end that I can just rely on my old Latin lessons to refer to the chapters--the antepenultimate, the penultimate, and the ultimate.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher

There's 600 pages of reading time I'll never get back. What the hell is this book getting so much attention for? I get that the characterization and basic sentence-level work are excellent and vivid. But talk about long for the pointless sake of being long. The whole thing adds up to no story. At no point in the first 500 pages could I say what the conflict is that we were following. Individual set pieces had their own conflicts, but once those were done, what was I reading for except for the critical praise that encouraged me to plow ahead.

Let's take for example the character of Nick and the two sections that follow his POV. He's an interesting character and the situation he's in is interesting. In fact, I wish his conflict was what the novel was about. But it's not. Even in a novel with no story, it's presumably still primarily about the primary characters, and following Nick around for those two long sections adds nothing to the understanding of the primary characters or their conflicts. Cutting out those two sections is the most obvious choice in the world and not doing so suggests a self-indulgence by the author.

Shame on you Amazon. Best book of the year? I don't get it, and I'm so grouchy about it I'm tempted to question your motives.

World's against me

I can't even believe how events have conspired to keep me from writing this week. It feels now like I'll never get back to the book. I've lost track of how far past my 3-week timeline I've stretched by this point, and I'm still filled with doubt and dread about the work I have to do on the chapters I've been stuck on. I have a feeling it's all a wash until Monday, which would mean more than a week stuck in one spot. Ugh.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Minimal progress

I'm still having a hard time putting in a serious effort on these big revisions--going to the writing table reluctantly and screwing around a lot of time while I'm there. I'm also not sleeping so great, so all the rest of my days are out of whack also.

I did finish the basic cutting and pasting in the electronic file today, which leaves me with all the existing material in the order that I am planning for it but with none of the connective tissue. So now I have to get in there and actually do the necessary writing. It's intimidating.

And like I say I have a lot of other stuff this week that I'm responsible for, so I don't have any confidence that the pace it going to pick up on this. Maybe I need some time off from it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Finished American Rust

I really liked American Rust by Philipp Meyer a lot. It deserves all the praise it's getting, I think, and I'm on the bandwagon. I have some quibbles, but I have quibbles with everything.

My initial comparison of it to James Joyce turns out to be pretty obvious. The stream-of-consciousness style becomes more and more the means of moving plot forward as the fat middle of the book settles in, and eventually there is also a big billboard in there inviting comparison to Joyce.

The thing I would have liked to see different has to do with the old saw about show-don't-tell. No doubt the author knows the old saw, so I assume he thought about this and made a deliberate artistic choice different from what mine would have been, and I respect that. But I think a lot of what the narration told us about the setting--the near apocalyptic decline of the region--was satisfactorily shown early in the book. The point was frequently revisited throughout the rest of the book without adding anything.

Maybe this is less a point about showing/telling than about making sure not to keep showing over and over unless there is some new meaning or interpretation or understanding or depth that is being added. Even when the environment the characters are operating in is vividly shown with new detail or metaphor, with a couple of exceptions, I don't think any new understanding is added. I don't see any artistic, thematic or narrative advantage to interrupting the present action for more scene-setting exposition after the first few chapters, and we were still getting it in regular doses up to the climax.

An impatient reader might respond to that choice, "OK, I get it, enough already." But you can see why that doesn't happen with most readers in this case. The book pulls off the single magic trick that good books must--creates characters that feel real so that the reader can't help but keep wonder how they're making out with that trouble they're having. I think the lesson is that if a writer can do that then readers will forgive or not notice just about any other imperfection in technique. I also assume that the author knows some old saws about how to summon that magic (I wish he'd tell me) and made the appropriate artistic choices deliberately, and it's impressive how good he is at it.

Baby steps

My pace has slowed way down. After a little bit of time on Saturday and a little bit this afternoon I'm still dealing with Ch. 12 (f/k/a 13 and probably in the future to be known as 14).

I'm implementing the plan described earlier to split it up and insert the first half into a break between the two halves of Ch. 8. So far, I've only really done the cutting and pasting. There is still a lot of the new writing of transitional and framing material that goes with that.

In real terms, it's probably only a few hours of work, but I'm feeling hesitant and doubtful and that makes me procrastinate, so I'm poking along pretty slowly. And I don't feel like I can move on to the last three chapters of the book without getting this chapter sorted out, so . . . I'm not feeling very confident about finishing the "read through" this week since I know I'm going to lose a couple days to other commitments.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Radical revisions

First of all, I need to put the time line out of my mind. It's arbitrary and it's making me unnecessarily anxious. Just do the work that needs to be done. It's going to take awhile--longer than I want and longer than I'm predicting. Just keep plugging away a little bit every day.

I'm considering and am probably going to make some significant revisions unlike any I've made before--splitting a couple different chapters in half and moving one of the new resulting chapters to a whole different section of the book. Experienced writers would probably think that's no big whoop--happens all the time--but I have successfully avoided that kind of untangling and shifting so far.

This is coming out of problems with Chapter 12 (f/k/a 13). I've known the problems were there all along but I thought a lot of fancy writing would disguise them. I even put them on a to do list in this blog last month at the start of this revision. The third item, which I've focused on mostly, was cutting down the length. But the first two items were to set up a big part of the plot complication earlier instead of dumping it on the reader all at once near the end and to establish one of the minor characters better early on. I haven't really dealt with those issues.

Those are problems with a lack early in the book. A related problem in Ch. 12 is that there is a sudden excess of stuff late in the book--exactly the stuff needed earlier. Ch. 12 is from that minor character's POV, making him more developed and revealing a lot of plot complication that only he has access to and can report to the reader. It does important work but it does it so late that it feels weird.

So in a way, the solution is relatively straightforward--move that chapter earlier. The material feels less weird that way and satisfies that problem of what is lacking earlier. I've resisted that though because every thread is interwoven with several others. There are present action events in Ch. 12 that need to happen at that late point in the story. How to keep those present action events there and move the other stuff?

It's helpful that a lot of the plot complication stuff--and the stuff that develops and humanizes the character--is not present action but is background and flashback. Those aspects of Ch. 12 snap out of there relatively easily.

Not easily, but relatively so. I've resisted because it's hard, but I think I see a way to do it. That's what I was stewing on and making notes about yesterday and today. The basic idea is this. Pull the "past action/flashback and exposition/character sketch" stuff out of Ch. 12, leave the present action stuff where it is in Ch. 12, break Ch. 8 in half, insert the material from Ch. 12 in that break, resulting in a new Ch. 9 and 10 to conclude Part 1, and write a lot of new material to frame up these elements. For example in this new Ch. 9 I would need a new present action episode to justify going to this character's POV for awhile.

Another side benefit of this is that it gives a more elegant solution to some of the problems in Ch. 8 that I dealt with a couple weeks ago. That chapter was way too long in raw terms and it awkwardly covered a longer period of time than other chapters and awkwardly joined more than one setting whereas most chapters typically center on one setting or theme. This way, I break it up along those two settings so they more resemble the other chapters in length, time frame and thematic unity.

Well, all of this is a lot of speculation. I have notes on it and have drafted some possible new framing material. But I have to get the electronic version in front of me similar to what I did with Chs. 9-11 last week and start cutting and pasting and see if I can patch it together the way I'm imagining. It will involve a lot of new writing, which is intimidating because I really want to be moving forward to line editing by this point, not backward to story development stages.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

American Rust by Philipp Meyer

I started reading American Rust by Philipp Meyer last night and am awful sleepy today because I was up late with it. It's rare for me to get a book so new before I can get it at a used price, a best-seller discount or in paperback, but I decided this would be a kind of "work expense." Last week it got a highly complimentary review by Michiko Kakutani in the NY Times, and I was inspired to study exactly how the book works and what lead to the positive review and to see what I could learn from that.

I choose this book for close study like this because there are a lot of similarities to my situation and my book. It's a first novel. He appears to be not far from my age. Like mine, it's in third person, free indirect style with multiple points of view. Like mine, the setting is important and it may play a similar kind of role in linking the individual story with the social context.

So, I'm starting to dig in, and I'm noticing important differences within these similarities. One, the multiple points of view in that case are organized differently than in mine--probably more effectively. In mine, we stick with the main character for several chapters at a time and then break for single long chapters with other characters. One of my fears is that there is a jarring effect, leading the reader to wonder why we're leaving the main character and if this other POV is necessary. My one reader so far has warned me about this. In American Rust, the more frequent and earlier shifts in POV train the reader on what to expect. Arguably when you leave the main character, it provokes a desire to return to him that is a kind of delicious anticipation rather than provoking impatience with the detour. I hope I'm wrong about the potential flaw in mine, because right now I feel like it's in the DNA of the book and can't be undone without a complete rewrite.

Second, the free indirect style in this book has something unique about it--different from mine and different from anything else--that I haven't quite put my finger on. Here's a first-draft attempt to describe what's going on, but not a thesis I'm committed to. (After all, I've only read a few chapters.)

One characteristic of free indirect style is how it "pulses" into and away from the consciousness of the character, in James Wood's words. Sort of like the tide going in and out, the reader is floated in close to the limited understanding of that character and then floated back out to the more omniscient understanding of the narrator. Wood illustrates this by looking closely at the metaphors in the narration. Usually you are getting very free-ranging metaphors that reflect the voice and intelligence of the narrator/author and sometimes you move in close and the metaphor you get is one that only the character you are following would use. It's like you are living in their head for that moment. Wood says there's a kind of magic happening at that moment where the language seems to "belong to" both the character and narrator at once. That's a big part of how the individual consciousness is created in modern literature since Flaubert.

In American Rust, so far to me it feels like that gentle tide floating us back and forth is a rip tide. From one sentence to the next, within paragraphs, we are getting both the character's interior and then the narrator's voice again and then back again. And while we are in the character's head, we are hard in it, much like the stream of consciousness of Ulysses. (I see the author cites Joyce on his website.) Whereas the more customary method is to obscure the distinction a little--to create the sensation that the words are botht he character's and the narrator's at once.

There were a few places where I was aware of that sudden change withing grafs and the spell was broken, but like I said, I was up late reading it, so something about it was working for me. I really do feel like the interiority of these characters--three so far--have been very naturally and persuasively established so that they are alive for me. In fact, the most basic magic that a book has to accomplish, making the reader feel transported by making the situation and characters feel real, has happened for me. I'm eager to get back to it.

Well, I don't feel like I've said what it is exactly that the book does to achieve that effect or how it relates to my own project, but I'll keep studying on it.

Done with Ch. 11 I guess

Wrapped up Ch. 11 (f/k/a 12) this morning, I guess. I'm not feeling very comfortable that it's any good. But my plan is to input the changes on the computer file--later when I'm working on the whole book that way--and then see how it reads. I suspect it's not as well developed and interesting and understandable as the previous chapters. I'm still just patching over the flaws I think.

So, Ch. 12 next. Maybe this afternoon. I'm not going to finish this week, so I'll be more than a week behind. I really hope I finish by next Wednesday, because I have some serious work to do on my paying gigs next week, and I'd like to deal with that fresh without the distraction of the book, and then I can come back to the next stage--making the changes on the computer--the week after that. That would put me two weeks behind. In theory that's possible if I buckle down the next few days and don't have any more crises of confidence.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lost a day

Writing a novel is largely an exercise in psychological discipline – trying to balance your project on your chin while negotiating a minefield of depression and freak-out.
-Hari Kunzru

Yep, that's about right lately.

I'm losing a day on the novel. I needed to catch up with some of my paying work today. Unless you count anxiety dreams about the novel as work. Then I put in a LOT of hours this morning.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Discouraged--basic plot problems

Ugh. Another road block. It seems like about once a week I get about 12-24 hours of feeling like I'm making progress and then run into another problem that feels catastrophic and makes me want to give up.

All these crises have passed before, and I'll have to trust this one will too if I keep at it.

I started reading Ch. 11 last night and this morning and while there is an awful lot of good work that fits within the chapter, there's an awful lot that doesn't fit in with the plot of the rest of the book. And it's not as simple as cutting that stuff out. (I don't think so anyway. It's important to take a few minutes and seriously consider that radical solutions, so I will do that.) It's more a matter of the chapter not having a point that fits with the chapters on either side.

I think what I've exposed is a critical flaw in the plot structure of Part 2. What is happening and how is the character developing? I've worked hard on these questions, I feel, but I'm still left with a series of events that don't tie together. It's like the plot works but the character development does not, so when it comes down to it the plot doesn't really work at heart either. It's a patch job. Character development is the plot, so if you spend a moment too long considering only the events (plot in the most simplistic sense) and not what they mean for the character, the formula gets unbalanced and there's a weakness in the plaster mix that makes itself more and more apparent over time. In this case in Part 2, I can always answer why a character is behaving in a given moment but only if I ignore what happened in the previous episode. How does he so quickly go from resistant to willing, for example? From allied with that character to suspicious of him? The changes are too whipsaw, so the believability of the whole book is starting crack apart at this point.

I'm afraid what all this means is some significant developing and rewriting throughout Part 2. And that's very discouraging to think about.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Finally done with Chs. 9-11, combining and renumbering

Whew. I'm not feeling very confident that these chapters are good, but they are much better in some basic ways than they were a week ago.

Friday afternoon I went back to them and cranked out the changes I had prepped. That work finally trimmed the 65 pp. original for 3 chapters together by 23 to 42 pp. total. I printed them out and then this morning took another run at them the same way that I had all the previous chapters. Minimal line editing. Cut about another page total.

So I'm up to about pg. 395 of my typescript and I've cut an estimated 105 pp. Trending a little better than 25%, which would get me a 404 pg. typescript in the end if that keeps up. That's a little better than what I was hoping for in this draft--so far so good.

Here's how Chs. 9-11 are now combined. I had discussed folding the 3 chapters into 1, but I'm going halfway on that. Ch. 9 will continue to stand alone as a pretty short chapter. (About 18 pp. typed currently.) The former Chs. 10 and 11 are now combined into one Chapter 10. (About 24 pages typed.)

Therefore, what was formerly called Chapter 12, will hereafter be referred to as Chapter 11, and so on. My 16 chapter book is now 15 chapters.

Tomorrow I continue the "read through" on Ch. 11 (f/k/a 12). I'm still hoping to be done by the end of the week. Then 3 weeks to input the changes on the computer.